Congressman's River Forest visit met with protests

Rep. Peter Roskam visited Good Earth Greenhouse on Friday

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

At least 40 people gathered on the sidewalk outside of Good Earth Greenhouse, 7900 Madison St. in River Forest Friday night, hoping that their signs and chants would catch the attention of Republican Rep. Peter Roskam (6th District). The Congressman was headlining an RSVP-only affair hosted by the Oak Park-River Forest Republican Organization.

It wasn't clear what Roskam would talk about. Despite being cleared to enter earlier in the night, and having RSVP'd with no issues hours prior to the event's 6 p.m. start time, a Wednesday Journal reporter and a photographer were shown the door shortly after Roskam arrived and not long before he would start speaking.

The flyer advertising the meeting didn't go into specifics. The slogans, "Stronger Together," "Stand Together," "It's Morning Again in America," and "What Can We Accomplish" made up the majority of the flyer's content, which directed readers to RSVP Tom Cronin, Good Earth's owner.

Cronin said he suggested that guests RSVP as a courtesy to Roskam and to the affair's guests, which included Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Dan Patlak (1st), the only Republican on that three-person board.

"I know Peter, I've known him for many years," said Patlak. "I think he does a wonderful job. I think he's a great congressman. He certainly represents the constituents in his district. As far as individual issues, I'm not going to get into all of them. That's his thing. I'll let him answer the question."

But Roskam, a six-term incumbent who is the House Republican Chief Deputy Whip and a member of the powerful Committee on Ways and Means — which is responsible for making recommendations on all revenue-raising bills in the House — has been rather evasive of late, according to several of his constituents who gathered outside of Green Earth. The congressman entered the Madison Street facility discreetly through the backdoor.

"I have called him and left messages," said Phyllis Salerno, who lives in Roskam's district, which includes all or parts of Downers Grove, Glen Ellyn, Hoffman Estates and Wheaton, among other municipalities that span Cook, Lake, Kane, DuPage and McHenry counties.

Salerno, who described herself as a former Republican who has voted for Democrats recently, and who "votes the issues" more generally, said she disagrees with Roskam on numerous measures.

"I'm here to protest how he has voted on various bills, including allowing the mentally ill to have guns, allowing dirty water to go into streams," she said. "I want to keep the ACA [Affordable Care Act] and I disagree with Paul Ryan's wanting to privatize Medicare and Social Security."

"I write thank-you cards to Sen. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth," said Salerno. "So when things go well, I let them know. But Peter has been very rude, running away from town hall meetings."

Video posted to Twitter by Citizen Action Illinois shows Roskam leaving out of a back door to chants of "Shame on you!" after addressing a Feb. 4 meeting of the Palatine Township Republican Organization. That event attracted more than 300 protesters, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the meeting had originally been advertised "as 'free and open to the public,'" but "was changed to a 'members only' gathering" on Feb. 1, a move that some protesters believed was made after Roskam learned they wanted to speak with him.

Video footage shot by Chicago Tribune reporters who were inside of the Feb. 4 meeting shows Roskam commenting on the demonstrations outside.

"The way that we're interacting with opponents today, the ability of people to come out and express their views, we celebrate that," Roskam says in the video. "People can come out and let their views be heard. We're free to meet now. We're free to gather freely and have a discussion with one another."

Roskam, who is a member of the Ways and Means Committee's sub-committee on health, which has an outsized role in determining the future of the ACA, reportedly agrees with President Donald Trump "on replacing the ACA and overhauling the tax code," the Tribune reported, "but disagrees with the bid to impose a 20 percent tariff on Mexican imports."

Roskam said he supports "the underlying theme" of Trump's immigration ban, but conceded to Tribune reporters that the "implementation was bumpy."

Lynda DeLaforgue, Citizen Action Illinois' co-director, said that regardless of the congressman's personal views on particular policy proposals, his refusal to meet with the public is wearing thin with an increasingly outraged citizenry.

"He won't even meet with his own constituents," DeLaforgue said, while passing out the organization's literature during Friday evening's demonstration.

"These guys are going to have to wake up and smell the coffee," she said. "These are not the usual suspects who just show up at their office all the time protesting things. This is a lot of anger coming from people who are faced with a lot of uncertainty over how they'll be able to keep their health care. People's lives are on the line. This is happening all over the country."

On Thursday, CNN reported, two Republican Congress members, Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Diane Black of Tennessee, encountered angry crowds at their own public events.

The Chicago Tribune reported today that Roskam declined three requests made by the League of Women Voters to hold public meetings in his district. The congressman said that "large meetings tend to devolve into shouting matches," and that he prefers meeting with fewer than 25 constituents at a time.

Dr. Marian Sassetti, an Oak Park physician, said she hoped that Roskam would meet with experts like her — and take their advice.

"He needs to understand that he can be a hero here," said Sassetti, who was still wearing her white robe when she joined the protesters. "The ACA saves lives. If he votes against it, people will die on his watch. That's the truth. I know that for a fact.

"People are terrified. Women are coming in with IUDs because they're not sure they'll be able to get one. They don't necessarily want one, but they're coming in to get one just in case. People are coming in to see me for the first time because they're afraid they won't get a doctor."

Jean Meister, a River Forest resident, stood a few feet away from Dr. Sassetti, holding a sign that read, 'ACA saved my child's life.'"

"I am pissed! I am really mad!" Meister said. "I have a daughter with a chronic illness that was excluded from coverage on our private pay health plan for two years. It cost us more than $100,000 for hospitalizations, treatments, medications and lab tests. None of it was covered by insurance. The ACA allowed my daughter to be covered by our health care and she's alive!"

Later on in the meeting, Roskam would eventually speak, but his words went unheard by the people outside. A man who appeared to be providing security guarded the doors, asking people whether or not they had RSVP'd. At one point, he blocked the doors to a resident of one of the nearby apartment complexes who said he just wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

"What do we want? Town hall!" the crowd chanted, some people cupping their mouths, whenever the doors intermittently opened. "When do we want it? Now!"

Jeffrey Leef, a River Forest radiologist who ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Republican against U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th), was among those who were allowed in as Roskam was speaking.

"Everybody has a right to protest; that's all fine, obviously, and it's all peaceful," Leef said. "But there are many people who are moderate, like myself, so it's not as though every Republican blindly agrees with what the administration is doing."

Leef said he believes that the ACA is "deeply flawed," but would not support repealing the law "if they don't have something that's able to make up for its huge inadequacies on day one."

In the meantime, people like Muriel Quinn, of Oak Park, just wants those with the power to repeal to at least talk about their intentions.

"Women are very scary evidently," Quinn said sarcastically. "Roskam runs away from moms."


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Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Kathy Wyman  

Posted: February 13th, 2017 5:41 PM

Comments along the lines of "Why are people getting so angry over someone expressing a difference of opinion about taxes" as though this were any ordinary political climate or some minor difference of opinion are deliberately missing most of the point. This Administration and this Congress revile nearly every human value many of us believe in: protecting the planet and meeting the basic needs of all its humans, not just the straight, rich white Christians who happened to be lucky enough to be born in the U.S., and to not (at this moment in time, at least) have a disability. This meeting and anyone who publicly supports the current Republican politicians like Roskam need to understand that others are horrified by the concentration of power among people who deny well-established scientific fact, ignoring the critical need to protect the planet so they can continue lining their own pockets. People's lives are on the line with threatened ACA repeal. Women's healthcare is further threatened by campaigns to shut down Planned Parenthood despite the MANY non-abortion-related services they provide. We have a Secretary of Education who doesn't know the first thing about public schools. We have a President who doesn't bother to inform himself about issues, is working to undermine our 1st Amendment AND our system of checks and balances, & who in 2017 doesn't view religious discrimination as problematic. We have families being ripped apart by deportation. And on and on. Anyone who thinks this is just about taxes might consider opening their minds and making a genuine attempt to learn about the real lives of people who have less in the way of resources & more in the way of obstacles than most folks in River Forest or DuPage County. Please.

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: February 13th, 2017 4:44 PM

Not sure why the event was held outside the Congressman's own district. The 6th district covers many towns, and River Forest seems, geographically, out of the way from his C-shaped district. Is that typical--to meet constituents at a location outside your district?

Alex Garcia  

Posted: February 13th, 2017 4:17 PM

He did meet with his constituents, just not you.

Holly Barnes  

Posted: February 13th, 2017 2:30 PM

Yes, he met with those he intended to. It's too bad he won't meet with his constituents.

Alex Garcia  

Posted: February 13th, 2017 1:02 PM

It sounds like Rep. Roskam was able to meet with those he intended to, sidestepping Oak Park leftists on the way in and out of his visit. Perfect.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: February 13th, 2017 12:14 PM

Citizen Action Illinois is financed by public sector unions, most notably AFSCME and IL Fed of Teachers (CTU), so expect them to follow the party line. They belong to the similarly funded group of outfits that have been pushing for higher taxes for years. Furthermore, records show that Citizen Action often partners with Strategic Consulting Group to assist in organization efforts. Our own Chris Welch recently worked with SCG as well. Who is SCG? You might know them better by their leader, Robert Creamer. Yes, that's the same Robert Creamer caught on video directing people how to incite violence at protests, most notably Trump's UIC visit last year, while "contracted" with the DNC. He's also happens to be married to IL Rep. Jan Schakowsy, who also contributes to Citizen Action IL, thereby completing the incestual funding loop that is Illinois politics.

David Hammond  

Posted: February 13th, 2017 12:05 PM

May have noted before, Bill, but from a lexical/semantic perspective, the antonym of "progressive" is "regressive." That's just the way the language works, as I'm sure you know, though it will no doubt anger those who are working to minimize the importance of words.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: February 13th, 2017 9:28 AM

There was no "chaos" and there was no violence outside this event, as Ray Simpson's fellow Republican Dr. Leef acknowledged. I think Ray is confusing peaceful progressive protesters with Trump supporters. Btw, Ray, just wondering... what exactly is a "non-progressive ideology" anyways? Wouldn't that be called "stagnation"?

Holly Barnes  

Posted: February 13th, 2017 7:05 AM

"the protesters proved that they cannot create anything but chaos" That's a pretty ridiculous definition of chaos.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: February 12th, 2017 6:51 PM

Ray I find it fascinating that when D200Vote NO - of which I was an active participant -exercised their constitutional right to assemble and redress grievances, we were scolded: "this is a Representative Republic, why are you questioning your duly elected representatives, blah, blah blah, yada yada yada." Now I suspect (but can not prove) that the shoe is on the other foot, and protesting our duly elected representatives is perfectly OK. I guess exercising ones First amendment rights depends upon which side of the political spectrum one belongs; or alternatively in OPRF whose "ox is gored."

Ray Simpson  

Posted: February 12th, 2017 5:52 PM

@ Luke - it was a RSVP event. The protesters were expected and there was no way the event was going to be ruined by violence. As for the Wednesday Journal being excluded, their intolerance for non-progressive ideology should not be a surprise to anyone. Their destine for Republicans and conservative beliefs would require their disruption. There are builders and there are destroyers in this world and the protesters proved that they cannot create anything but chaos. It was a nice party and I am glad I was there. A lot of happy people inside.

Luke Casson  

Posted: February 12th, 2017 1:46 PM

@Barbara Joan--welcoming? Why would a "welcoming" place eject half of the African Americans in the crowd and a local reporter? I'm sure other businesses will welcome my business much better.

Barbara Joan  

Posted: February 11th, 2017 4:25 PM

Good Earth Greenhouse and Cafe is a welcoming and comforting place . Theiy makes fresh all natural smoothies that offer great nutrition and enjoyment that many persons struggling with Cancer and other severe illness are most grateful for. Leave them to tend to their customers. So much for respecting people's civil rights-for some respecting others rights and freedom requires you totally agree with their personal agendas.

Robert Zeh  

Posted: February 11th, 2017 11:00 AM

If buying potting soil is a political decision, perhaps every local business should have a picture of an elephant or a donkey by their front door so we know if the proprietor agrees with us politically. If successful, we could expand the program to homes; I'd hate to think I was living next door to someone I disagreed with on how health care should be allocated and paid for.

Dean Rogers from Oak Park  

Posted: February 11th, 2017 10:52 AM

If Congress (and Roskam and Trump) would just put off any action on the ACA,it would be better than repeal and replace. This boondoggle is already falling apart and facing complete failure.Yes,it made it possible for many Americans to obtain insurance,especially those with pre-existing conditions.But it is quickly unraveling.In some states,only one plan is offered.Premiums and deductibles are skyrocketing,affordable only for those eligible for subsidies.So the rest of us,with our own policies having seen huge jumps in premiums and deductibles,are forced to pay even more to cover the increasing subsidies.We were never allowed to keep our doctor or plan if we liked them,as promised by Obama.Most of what I read or hear from doctors is this program will fail on it's own in two years.Then republicans should come up with a viable alternative.If they repeal and replace,they will be blamed for many that will lose their coverage,if only briefly. Let this law collapse so that people see how bad it was in practice,demand something different,and then propose an alternative.Repeal and replace lets the democrats off the hook for enacting this monumental failure in the first place.Allow it to die so those responsible are held accountable.Then,and only then,propose a realistic alternative that will deliver on the promise of helping all Americans.

John Abbott  

Posted: February 11th, 2017 9:54 AM

thanks, Michael, for this excellent report. On another point, perhaps the people at Good Earth Greenhouse should change their name, given their apparent embrace of policies designed to intensify the radical degradation of our world's ecosystems. Though it seems they've at least got the Greenhouse part right.

Kathy Wyman from Oak Park   

Posted: February 11th, 2017 9:50 AM

Roskam's hubris and cowardice as demonstrated by repeated refusals to meet with constituents like the League of Women Voters at a time when so many fear the loss of access to medical care (among many other concerns) is obviously going to elicit protests. It's dishonest to paint every gathering of concerned citizens as a violent mob and absurd to imply that anger, would be unjustified in this situation. I'm glad the press covered this installment in the developing saga of Roskam's appallingly entitled refusals to do an extremely important part of his job. Besides Roskam fleeing his own district to hang out in River Forest, this coverage should help bring attention to the local angle-- the many people in Oak Park who vote with their wallets and will be shopping elsewhere for plants from now on. Social media feeds were filled yesterday with disappointment of now-former Good Earth customers. Some local Republicans appear to remain in denial that the current Republican agenda is too destructive to be treated as business as usual. But the irony of a business named Good Earth supporting a political party that's hell-bent on destroying EPA and other protection for our Earth and its inhabitants is not lost on local consumers. Many local consumers are disgusted with Roskam, with DC Republicans generally, and with Rauner, and many say they will be expressing this by shopping elsewhere.

Holly Barnes  

Posted: February 11th, 2017 9:41 AM

I was there too, and we certainly weren't an aggressive mob. In fact, protesters were the first to come to the aid of an attendee who passed out after leaving the event. Some demonstrators were angry, sure, but with good reason. Protest is the right of the people, and you can expect protests when a politician dodges his constituents.

Marcia Frank  

Posted: February 11th, 2017 9:27 AM

In our democracy, our representatives are elected "BY they PEOPLE, FOR the PEOPLE". Thus, while it is terrific that Roskam is listening to "experts" (it would be helpful to know who he considers experts), the fact that he hides from his constituents and will not listen to the people who elected him suggests that he is not governing for them but only for his party or himself. The "people" are experts at how legislation impacts their lives. Why not listen to their experiences and concerns instead of sneaking in and out the back door and only listening to a select (RSVP'd) few?

Todd Bannor  

Posted: February 11th, 2017 9:10 AM

Mindless protesters? Most of them are highly educated and a couple of doctors were present, which turned out to be a good thing, when an event attendee came outside and collapsed right at the front door. Danny Davis holds regular town halls and all are welcome to attend and express their views. He doesn't hide from his constituents as Roskam is doing.

Elizabeth Austin from Oak Park  

Posted: February 11th, 2017 8:58 AM

Gosh, it seems a bit over-the-top to call a group of concerned suburban moms and dads an "aggressive and angry mob." I was there to stand up for the people whose health care is in jeopardy. I wasn't angry -- I was proud to stand with my Oak Park and River Forest neighbors to remind Roskam that he works for all of us, not just the wealthy chosen few.

Barbara Joan  

Posted: February 11th, 2017 8:53 AM

Aggressive and angry mobs do not represent the majority of USA citizens . Civilized people advocating in a civilized manner is much more effective when addressing concerning issues. Adults behaving like thugs and bullies is disgraceful and signals to young people that behaving badly is acceptable..

Corey Gimbel from Oak Park  

Posted: February 11th, 2017 8:41 AM

I'm unclear why Rep. Roskam would refuse to meet with any of "his" constituents who were concerned enough to seek him out rather then just his base. And evicting the Wednesday Journal staff was cowardly and provides a look into the willingness to get his message out that deserves more scrutiny.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: February 11th, 2017 8:28 AM

I was there as well! I came away with the feeling that the party goers were happy, positive and looking to improve the lot of everyone, even the angry, negative hate mongers on the curb. I cannot remember mindless protesters at any Danny Davis party. Or does he ever celebrate anything?

Anna Leonard from Oak Park  

Posted: February 10th, 2017 11:25 PM

I attended the Republican gathering this evening having RSVP'd earlier. Amid the protesting outside, the gentlemen speaker that introduced Congressman Roskam cautioned the attendees not to pay mind to the recent media coverage about constituents in the 6th District not being heard by Roskam at a town hall meeting because Roskam follows a protocol of speaking with experts on topics of concern in current politics; that that is the most effective way of gaining insight and understanding on a given political topic and that that is what makes Mr. Roskam a great politician unlike Hillary Clinton, etc.

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